Seeking the Right Floatation Swimsuit for Small Preschooler

Updated on May 31, 2012
M.B. asks from Milwaukee, WI
18 answers

Hi helpful mamas! I am interested in finding the safest floatation swimsuit for my daughter. Sunday we put a child's boating life vest on her and lowered her into a pool with her preteen cousins. As she was lowered into the water her vest rode up to her chin and she rolled to the side. We pulled her out (she was scared!) and she wanted to try to go in again with the vest and a pool noodle but she immediately wanted out of the pool and decided she was "done". So tonight I was looking on Mamapedia to learn what others found out about floataion swimsuits, and came across one that was Coast-Guard Approved, but when I went to order they only had Medium which was 40-50 lbs. My daughter is just under 35 lbs. Do any of you mamas out there use a floatation swim suit for a little girl? Does it keep her head completely out of the water and keep her stable so she doesn't roll? Of course with the suit I would still be only arm's reach away, but I would like something that floats better than the life vest we used. We will be going boating next month and I want her to be *safe*. I don't think the vest we have fits her since that happened Sunday. Please share your experiences with floatation devices for your children, and if you found something that works well please share. Many thanks! *peace*! :)

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So What Happened?

Thanks so much mamas for talking me out of getting the floatation swimsuit. I will find a Coast Guard Approved Life Vest for our boating trip (one with a strap that goes between the legs) and we won't use it for swimming. Like I said in my post, she will be with me (arm's reach) any time we're near water, so I guess until I can get swimming lessons for her, I will just keep her with me walking around in knee deep water, until she feels ready to walk into deeper water and be held in my arms. We don't get many chances to swim because we live where it's cold much of the time. She does love her kiddy pool with a foot of water and me at arm's reach. Thanks again mamas... *Peace*!

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answers from Rochester on

if you are going boating, I do not think that a floatation swimsuit counts as a life vest. They do make infant sized life vest (for kids under 30 pounds) with the head part. Go to Gander mountain or Dicks sporting goods.
I have a place on the lake and do not use flotation swimsuits. My kids either wear life jackets (which they love) or swim with someone holding them.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

I don't have the brand right now, but we use a yellow one that is like a suit with a round tube around the middle. There is a strap that goes under her and the top fits like a tank. My daughter used it for two years! She LOVED it! It kept her completely out of the water, even when she jumped in. She was able to lay on her back and stomach and stay up right. She used it from 2-4. We found it online and I think it was around $25. Best thing we ever bought for her! Google learn to swim tube trainer. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Madison on

absolutely NO to a floatation swim suit...they are NOT meant for the water. The life vest that you need is this

it has to have the back neck flap if you want your child to roll onto their back and other life vest will do this for a child that size

Edit: this may not be the correct weight size...but they have them for heavier also...just make sure the weight matches to your child.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We have a pool and two children. We always wear life vests on our kayaks or when boating. We don't use floatation devices in the pool. Our pediatrician discouraged them. He said it gives kids a false sense of security. They become over confident in the water and if that device should fail, kids panic, don't know what to do and often drown. Most drownings are quiet and can happen unnoticed in a crowded pool with many people "watching".

We started swim lessons as early as we could, At nine months our kids were taking mommy and me classes. These did NOT teach swimming, but got kids comfortable with the water. They also taught us grown ups pool safety. Once again floatation vests and swimsuits were discouraged. They mentioned the safety issues, but concentrated on the swimming aspect. A vest will hold you upright, you want to be horizontal for swimming. It makes swimming impossible and some kids have a harder time learning how to position yourself in the water if they started out constantly in a swim vest or suit.

I hope when you lowered her into the pool with the preteen cousins, you were in there with her. Really the best choice is to hold her yourself. We do sometimes use a wacky noodle under my three year old's arms, but that is to position her body to practice her kicks and scoops - something learned in swim class. Daddy or I are always right there, should something go array.

The safest thing you can go is sign her up for swim classes. At four (looked at your profile), she is old enough for swim lessons. I encourage you to dump the devices and get her some lessons. She'll love it and you'll feel safer around the water.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You will NOT find a suit that floats better than a life-vest. That just doesn't make sense. But also, life vests aren't made to keep you upright. Especially for children, it should flip her onto her BACK so that her mouth and nose stay out of the water. The issue you had is NOT an issue of life vests, it's an issue of putting your daughter in an ill-fitting vest. It is important to fully tighten all straps and buckle the strap between her legs to keep the vest properly positioned.

That said, if it's for swimming and NOT boating, with you IN the water with her, why not an inner tube or just YOU hold her in the water? If you put her back in a floaty, I'd advise not to lower her into the water again. Let her walk in like a normal person down the steps. That will go a long way to making her feel comfortable and controlled and avoid fear.


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answers from Washington DC on

How about water wings?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I know you said you want a swimsuit one, but we are very happy with our Puddle Jumpers by Stearns. They are coast-guard approved, allow the kids to easily move around, and keep their heads above water. It has an adjustable strap that buckles in back so they can't get it off easily. $15 is a good deal.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

We had one bought for us for a younger child like yours. The suit stretched and the floats went above her head. It was the smallest they made. I researched the suits and across the board they are not safe. Putting her in something that is a float with a seat in it with an adult beside her is the best way. It is flatter and her head won't tip it over. Younger kids heads are the heaviest part of their bodies, that is why when a child tips over into a bucket or toilet bowl they cannot get out. Their head is way too heavy for their necks.

So, in my opinion, and what I did, was get some of the items I am posting below. The kids could not tip them over and we had babies as young as 6 months in them with an adult beside them. I feel they are way safer in the long run and those suits are just too dangerous.

This one is one I came across and if the kids were this small I would have to get it...

This one is totally cute too...

The one I bought for the kids until they were at least 4 years old was very similar to this one, I am posting a couple of different sizes so you can see how stable they are on the water. They are very wide and the child is down lower. They do not have the ability to flip it over.

Here's an article about the floatation suits that reiterates the dangers of them. My kids arms were forced inside the suits as the floats went up. They did not have the ability to pull themselves up and out of the water. The suits are not as safe as they seem.

A coast guard approved life vest with the straps fully used should make your child float on her back and not roll to her side. That makes me think it was not the right size for her or something.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Most vests will actually position them face-DOWN in the water--not what you're after. They need the strength and control to position themselves.

We had something called a polywog suit, and then a Speedo vest that had a strap that went between the legs which helped with the "riding up" part.

Let her hold onto a kickboard and swim like that.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

You need to get your child a vest that is approved for her weight range. I properly fitted life vest will be snug and not ride up. It should also have a strap going between the legs to keep it properly in place.
Next you should teach your kids proper life vest skills, which includes keeping herself upright and rolling onto her back.
You can get a flotation swim suit, but be aware that they are considered "toys". They will not protect your child from drowing.
Life vest or not, you should always stay in arm's lenght with your child in the pool.

Good luck!

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answers from Duluth on

I'm not positive I'm right, but I think most Coast Guard approved devices are life vests--meant to preserve your life in the event of being dumped from a ship or skis. My 4 year old has a Speedo swim vest that keeps him out of the water. It's not the arm things; it's actually a vest that he zips up. It has a crotch strap and a flap that covers the zipper. I didn't want the arm floaties; they look cumbersome to me and he's pretty close to swimming on his own. Ideally, a PFD (like a life saving one) will actually flip your child so their head is out of the water. That's what they're supposed to do. A swim vest is just an aid. We bought ours at Target and he raell likes it.

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answers from Dallas on

I use a puddle jumper with both my kids (2 and 3). My 3 year old son can now swim independently with this on and it is coast gaurd approved.

Both my kids love them and feel perfectly safe in them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

For boating we always use life vests. When they were younger with the flap on the neck but now without it. Not sure if that is the right thing since they are still learning to swim. But when we go swimming, we use the Coast guard certified puddle jumpers (didn't know the name for them before this post.) They allow the kids the freedom to "swim" independently in big pools (but always with us nearby) when we are not at zero depth or kiddy pools. We are transitioning out of them (at 3.5 years) because we want them to learn how to without them. But for the last few years they have been a godsend because with twin boys, I can go to the pool or beach with them alone. If they jump into the pool (or lake) with a puddle jumper on, they will go underwater but they will pop back up. They can practice kicking and paddling, both on their tummy and back, but will not go under. Are they dependent on them? Perhaps a little, but we have been working on swimming without them at the same time. I have to say they are great for big pool situations so the kids can have fun without strangling you. But if so, they can never be in the water without an adult. BTW, "wings alone - blow up or otherwise - have completely unsafe.Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

When our son was small, we used a vest which had a strap that went down around underneath him - it helped keep it from riding up on him.
We used this on the boat (he didn't go swimming off the boat at first) and on the beach when the waves were high - not so much in pools.
Really you have to be right there with them no matter what.
It's better if there's a shallow end (knee deep?) where they can splash just standing up or sitting in a small wading pool.
Our son loved splashing in a large wash tub on the deck.
You can't really learn to swim or move in the water with a flotation device on you.
Our son liked water, but he didn't really take to pools till he was almost 6 yrs old.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Puddle Jumpers are THE BEST! Target, Walmart, etc...last year when my DD was 3 1/2, she weighed about 28 lbs and it was a little too big for her even on the tightest setting, and it did ride up a bit which made her sink down a little more. But she is very narrow in the chest. Her boy cousin weighed 31 lbs, a little broader chested & it was perfect for him. This year it is perfect for her. They make a suit too, but it is HUGE. Still a little big for my 4 1/2 yo...get this one:

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

We had one from Speedo that was like a life vest with leg holes (if that makes sense) - it zipped up the front. The couple of times that we went out on a boat before our youngest could swim well, that's what we used. She is only about 40 pounds now, and this was a few years ago, so I know they do make them in very small sizes. I think we bought ours at Target, or maybe at Sports Authority. Anyway, it worked well for us. My only concern, of course, was that it kind of gave me a false sense of security, and I had to remind myself to be vigilant in watching her. But she had a great time and I felt like if she fell off the boat, I could get to her before she drowned, which was the whole goal.

Have fun this summer!

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answers from Los Angeles on

i wouldnt buy those. i would invest in arm floaties. on a boat she is required to wear i life vest no excuses. i would try the gel filled ones (walmart should have them they are thinner but heavier). get one that hooks between the legs. all vest will float up around the chin (its what its designed to do)

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answers from Washington DC on

I also highly recommend the thing 3girlsforme is recommending!!!!! It is not coast guard approved and it is not for boating - it's just for swimming. But, I have 2 girls who are now 8 and 10 - they wore these little yellow tubes and BOTH of them were literally swimming across the pool, without the yellow tube, before their 4th birthdays. In fact, just today we had our first swim practice of the summer. It's our 4th year on swim team and my kids are fantastic swimmers (if I do say so myself!) What I like about the yellow tubes was their arms were free to paddle and there was no life vest choking them (I always hated seeing that). It takes a few minutes to get used to though. When you first lower your daughter into the water she WILL roll just a little bit. She has to kick to keep upright, but it's not hard. Both of mine were wearing these starting at 18 months, and they figured out what they needed to do within minutes. Another thing I liked about them, I was confident they were safe around the water. Of course I was watching them, but the summer I had a 2 1/2 year old and an 8 month old, I put my 2 1/2 year old in her tube the minute we got to the pool and if I had to turn my back to do something with the baby for one minutes I knew the older one wasn't drowning.

Anyway, I can't recommend it enough. I truly believe my girls were early swimmers b/c of the confidence they felt while wearing their yellow tubes! And those things, I think they're called puddle jumpers? I hate those things. My niece has been in one for a long time. She'll be 5 in September and there is NO sign of her swimming any time soon. I think they're bulky and cumbersome. Just my opinion, I guess. I can only go on my own experience! As far as the boating goes, that's trickier. My kids still fight me about wearing a life jacket. We were just out on grandpa's boat last weekend and they whined and complained and told me how good they were as swimming. I agreed with them, but then made them put the life jackets on. I found some at Dick's that are that neoprene material. They zip up the front (I"m pretty sure they're meant for water skiing) My kids complain the least about this particular kind.

Good luck and happy swimming!!

1 mom found this helpful
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